Last updated on December 2, 2022 by Wandering our World
It doesn’t matter if you’re looking to party or relax, the East Coast is a great place for both. Deciding on where your next East Coast vacation will be, however, is not so easy. Especially if you’re deciding between Ocean City vs Virginia Beach.
Only 140 miles apart, these destinations share the same climate, same sea breeze, and have remarkably similar beaches. So it really comes down to what each city has to offer and its atmosphere, rather than the ocean and beaches itself. And that’s where Ocean City and Virginia Beach really differ.
If you want a laid-back family-orientated place to enjoy beaches and the sand, then you may prefer Maryland’s Ocean City. It’s smaller than Virginia Beach, and has a family-friendly vibe. But if you want a more busy city atmosphere with lots of activities away from the beach and a lively nightlife, then Virginia Beach could be the better choice for you.
However that’s just scratching the surface when it comes to how these two destinations differ!
Luckily we know Ocean City and Virginia Beach well, and so below we compare the two to help you decide which is better for your vacation.
We look at their beaches, which has the better activities and things to do, which is cheaper, as well as compare the nightlife and lots more. All so you can make the right decision in the battle between Ocean City vs Virginia Beach. Let’s get started!
- A Quick Overview
- Which Has Better Beaches?
- Which Has Better Activities & Attractions?
- Which Has Better Nightlife?
- Where You Should Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Is The Better Choice?
A Quick Overview Of Ocean City vs Virginia Beach
Both destinations have a long history. Virginia Beach goes back to the 1600s so there’s plenty of historical sights to see there – as we mention later. Whilst Maryland’s Ocean City, formerly nicknamed “The Ladies’ Resort to the Ocean”, has been around since the 1800s.
Before we look at both in a little more detail, it’s worth mentioning that Ocean City and Virginia Beach are located north of the hurricane tracks, so are considered to be safe during most hurricane seasons. Which is a big bonus.
However, there have been an increasing number of shark sightings at the shores of both destinations. Ocean City in particular has seen a rising number, and some biologists believe that sharks are attracted there because of all the fishing that takes place.
While that’s worth keeping in mind, actual shark encounters in either Ocean City or Virginia Beach remain very rare.
Before we compare the nightlife, activities and more in both destinations, here’s a quick overview of each which should give you an idea straight away of which destination may suit you best.
Ocean City: An Overview
Located in the state of Maryland (so north of Virginia Beach), Ocean City is a resort town in Worcester County. You’ll find ten miles of continuous sandy beaches here.
But it’s not just sand and sea that makes Ocean City stand out. This city is proud to be an affordable beachside vacation spot: the beaches are open and free to the public, they host many free events (we explain those a little later) and there’s many accommodation options that cover all budgets.
We’ve found that the affordability of accommodation in Ocean City makes it a cheaper place to vacation than Virginia Beach. Albeit the difference isn’t huge.
The dining options are very good too. And although there’s less than in Virginia Beach you will find boutique fine dining restaurants all the way to small mom and pop places in Ocean City.
The town’s economy is actually heavily dependent on tourism, with the town of 7000 resident seeing up to 345,000 vacationers during the peak summer weeks!
Because of this popularity, Ocean City keeps its beaches very well maintained, as they’re the lifeblood of the town’s economy. The town even went through a major beach restoration in 2002, and another in 2006, to try and stop the migration of its sands to the west.
Virginia Beach is an independent city (one that does not belong to a county or similar), and it’s a lot larger and far more densely populated than Ocean City, with a population of almost 460,000 people living there.
The difference is very noticeable, and that has a big impact on Virginia Beach’s economy. This place has other major industries other than tourism, and is home to several United States military bases.
Because Virginia Beach is a lot older than Ocean City, some of the culture and the attractions are very different too. Virginia Beach tends to attract both beach goers and museum lovers (more on that later). It’s also a much larger and more famous destination, and with that comes far more options for activities and things to do.
Indeed Virginia Beach has hundreds of hotels, motels, restaurants, and many breweries. And it is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as having the longest pleasure beach in the world!
You will not be disappointed with Virginia Beach’s options for accommodations, fine dining, shopping and malls either.
It’s a large city with all the amenities a city has to offer, so expect more hustle and bustle, more shopping, hotel and food options, and a livelier nightlife than Ocean City.
Which Has Better Beaches?
Both Virginia Beach and Ocean City are excellent places if you want to spend the weekend relaxing at the beach or going for a swim in the Atlantic Ocean.
However what makes them different?
Ocean City: The Beaches
As far as beaches go, there are some very good options here as the shoreline is a continuous 10-mile stretch of sand.
The most crowded and lively beaches stretch from the Inlet to 27th Street – known as the downtown beaches. There’s a lot of hotels and condos here, and a lot of good parking spaces too. Although it’s still not as crowded and lively as Virginia Beach’s most popular stretches of sand.
However if you’re looking for a quieter beach experience, then 27th Street to 62nd Street (Midtown) has fewer hotels and less people. As it’s still located close to town, but quieter, this tends to be the favorite beach for locals.
Beaches in North Ocean City (from 62nd to Delaware) are nicknamed “condo row” as there are fewer hotels and those that do exist are separated by large condo buildings. This is actually one of the best places to stay if you are wanting to visit the many local craft breweries in and around Delaware.
Lastly, there is Assataegue Island. Visiting the beaches here are for those that really want to get away from noise and people!
It’s quiet, laidback, and you can even have a bonfire on the beach without a permit on the island, as long as you’re in a group of under 25 people. You can take your dog too as this is a dog friendly beach (albeit on a leash). The island is also great for fishing.
Virginia Beach: The Beaches
Virginia Beach has seven unique districts you can visit. Three of them have beaches.
The Oceanfront district is the main hub of activity and the nightlife center of Virginia Beach, and it’s really quite different from what’s on offer at Ocean City.
Many of the best restaurants are located in Oceanfront, along with a three mile long boardwalk. Here you will find many different street performers, live music events, and outdoor cafes. The beaches there are good for surfing, and the atmosphere is lively and fun. You’ll find a diverse selection of people here. It’s certainly a more lively place than Ocean City.
The Sandbridge district, south of the boardwalk, is more secluded and has some peaceful beaches. It has two parks you can explore: the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and the False Cape State Part. It’s a great place for fishing, but people also come here to hike and kayak in the open waters and marshes.
The Chesapeake Bay district is another relaxed beach environment, particularly because the water is calmer making it perfect for children. This is a beach area where many locals like to hangout, and is where you’ll find some of the best breweries in Virginia Beach.
Which Has Better Activities & Attractions?
Ocean City: The Activities & Attractions
It may be a much smaller destination with less historical sights and museums than Virginia Beach, but as we mentioned previously Ocean City holds many events and activities. Including several for free!
Free family events they host every summer focus around the beach, and often there’s a different event every day of the week during the peak tourist months.
‘Movies on the Beach’ is one of those. That’s where families will gather around a big screen to watch a movie. It’s on every Monday, Wednesday and Friday (if the weather permits).
There’s family beach games on Tuesdays such as sand castle contests and tug-of-war. Plus the city also has ‘Sundaes in the Park’ – an event held on Sunday with live music and ice cream (albeit you have to buy the ice cream yourself!).
Other free attractions include a drone show on Thursdays, and beach dance parties which happen after 7:30pm on Thursdays too.
Another great attraction is the Boardwalk, which stretches for three miles along the shoreline. Much of the best dining options are along the Boardwalk, so it’s definitely worth checking out. And if you like golfing, Ocean City has some of the best championship golf courses in the country.
As you can see, Ocean City is really geared towards providing entertainment for visitors, and in particular is a very family friendly beach destination. Although away from the beach there’s not much happening.
Virginia Beach: The Activities & Attractions
The other four districts also offer a lot of good things to do and see, but don’t feature any beaches.
Those four are: the Pungo district, which is an agricultural community where people go for food tourism. The Town Center district, where many high-end dining, entertainment and shopping options are located. The Inland district, where the Farmhouse Brewery is located. And the last is the ViBe Creative District, where the creative minds of Virginia Beach are and where you will find street art and craft shops.
As you can see, across Virginia Beach there are a huge number of activities to do and things to see. Far too many for us to write about. And this is where Virginia Beach excels over Ocean City – the sheer number of things to do.
As we mentioned, Virginia Beach is a historical city, so there’s plenty of history to savor here. The most interesting museums include the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage museum, built in 1895; The Virginia Beach Surf and Rescue museum which is a former U.S. Life Saving Station; and the amazing Military Aviation Museum, which has more than 100 acres of hangars full of WW1 and WW2 era airplanes.
In Virginia Beach you will also find many historical houses and monuments to explore. Including the Adam Thoroughgood House, the home of the first Virginia colonists that was built circa 1719.
There’s also the Cape Henry Lighthouse, the first ever lighthouse authorized by the U.S. Government back in 1792. If you’re a history geek, Virginia Beach really is your place.
There’s also a lively nightlife in the city with plenty of things to do and enjoy when the sun goes down. As we show you next.
Where You Should Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: The Hyatt Place Oceanfront is a brilliant budget accommodation complete with great beach location (and the views that come with it) as well as all the vacation facilities you’d need including a swimming pool and fitness center. And all of that comes at a price which almost everyone should be able to afford. See photos and rates here!
Luxury: Not only is the Hilton Suites Oceanfront right on the beach and just a short walk from the boardwalk, it also has a swim-up pool bar, swimming pool and lazy river with waterslides (perfect for kids!), as well as unbelievable sea views from the rooms (many of which also come with a whirlpool tub!)
However the best part is this luxury accommodation comes at an extremely affordable price tag. See photos and rates here!
Budget: Located on the oceanfront with stunning views of the sea, Marriott Virginia Beach gives you a taste of holidaying in style but without breaking the bank.
Facilities wise they have everything you’d need, including free bike rental which is perfect if you have older kids. But the real showstopper is the swimming pool with wonderful views of the sea. See photos and rates here!
Luxury: Gorgeous is the word that comes to mind when thinking of Cavalier Virginia Beach. This hotel is set within a historic building that’s photogenic at every corner, and it’s a place where you’ll get celebrity treatment from morning to evening. This is a place to impress and be impressed. See photos and rates here!
Which Has Better Nightlife?
Virginia Beach and Ocean City are very different in regards to nightlife.
Ocean City has a very family beach vibe. in contrast, Virginia Beach has a more lively, young, and even “upscale” vibe going on.
However both have great bars and restaurants, so you will have a good time after sunset either way.
Ocean City: The Nightlife
The first thing to mention about Ocean City’s nightlife is the boardwalk: it’s three miles of bars, restaurants, nightclubs and entertainment!
They host a good number of evening events during summer, although it does quiet down during other times of the year. And elsewhere in the city there isn’t too much happening after sun down.
If you just want to have a good time, enjoy a beer and socialize, then there’s some great bars, pubs, and restaurants in Ocean City.
However this isn’t a party hard kind of town. Instead it’s more family friendly, where you enjoy a beer and some good food with friends. Still, drinks and dining out tends to be cheaper than Virginia Beach.
Virginia Beach: The Nightlife
In comparison, Virginia Beach’s nightlife is very different. It feels a little fancier with breweries and wine bars, show houses and comedy clubs. There’s also countless options, from relaxing with a cocktail to drinks in a nightclub during the early hours.
It doesn’t matter what time of the year, the Oceanfront district will always have something going on and clubs to dance the night away.
Another thing to note about Virginia Beach’s nightlife are the concerts they host during summer. They have two outdoor venues. One is The Zeider’s American Dream Theater in the Town Center, which is a non-profit for local performers and artists.
However, it’s the other one, the Live Nation’s Veterans Amphitheater, that is the big attraction. This place hosts some of the most famous national and international artists around, so you may want to plan your vacation according to who’s featuring.
Ocean City vs Virginia Beach: Which Is The Better Choice?
In the battle between Ocean City vs Virginia Beach it all depends on what you are looking for. If you want a laid-back family-orientated place to enjoy beaches and the sand, then you should go for Ocean City. It’s smaller, but that makes it better for some.
The many Ocean City beach events are fantastic (and free), and the whole place has a friendly welcoming vibe. Nightlife is limited, but it exists. And if you have a lower budget, the choice is clear: Ocean City tends to be more affordable.
On the other hand, if you don’t want to stay just at the beach, but also want to visit museums, breweries, historic houses, monuments and more, then go with Virginia Beach. In fact there’s so much to do here you could enjoy your whole vacation without ever going to a beach.
The nightlife at Virginia Beach is better than Ocean City too. It may be a more expensive destination, but if you want great beaches and plenty of things to do, then Virginia Beach will likely be the better choice.